Obama must seize the chance to make history

Share
Related Topics

Between the two inaugurations of Barack Obama, expectation and reality have been turned on their head. When America's first black president took the oath of office on that frigid, unforgettable 20 January 2009 in Washington, the mood was of exhilaration – but amid the deepest economic slump in three-quarters of a century and two unfinished wars, the prospects by any rational measure were sobering. How different now. His first term yielded much, including a stimulus package that probably warded off a depression, and a giant step towards universal US health coverage. Yet today the mood is downbeat, the dreaded term "lame duck" is on every lip. But the pessimism is misplaced. In fact, this is a moment of rare and real opportunity to tackle America's problems, and the Obama second term – in contrast to that of his predecessor George W Bush – could be one to remember for all the right reasons.

The President has learnt a lot, not least how intractable are the partisan, interest group-driven ways of Washington. He will not repeat his first-term mistake of making only small use of the famous presidential bully-pulpit, in the misguided belief that politics is a business where common sense and a spirit of co-operation automatically prevail. Four years of unrelenting, unbending Republican hostility have disabused him of that notion.

The window of opportunity will not last more than 18 months, before the next midterm elections and then the 2016 campaign for the White House, take over American politics completely. But between now and mid-2014, Mr Obama is in a remarkably favourable position. For one thing, he has no more elections to fight, and thus less need to pander. A strengthening economy, and America's under-reported but vastly significant progress towards energy self-sufficiency add to his freedom of manoeuvre.

As for the Republicans, the truth is starting to sink in after their emphatic presidential defeat last November: you cannot seek to dictate national policy through a majority in a House of Representatives that is about as popular as the bubonic plague. It is worth remembering too that Americans as a whole did not want a Republican House. Democrats won the popular Congressional vote by some half a million nationally, but gerrymandering is a wonderful thing. In fact, it seems that the Republicans have already blinked in the most feared immediate confrontation, over a renewal of the US federal debt ceiling, without which the country might have defaulted. Their proposal, for a three-month extension is far from perfect. But it shows the party has realised that politics as kamikaze warfare is self-defeating.

Mr Obama should seize the opening, by advancing his own proposals to bring the deficit under control, including curbs on the growth of entitlement programmes which his own party will dislike. A "grand bargain" is possible. And if not now, when? Inaction will merely ensure the problem will be even worse, when a new president takes office in 2017.

He also has a decent chance to add immigration reform to his list of achievements. Many Republicans now appreciate that alienation of the Hispanic vote is a recipe for losing elections. Measures to tackle climate change are a more distant, but not wholly unattainable, goal. But Mr Obama must seize the moment. If his first term revealed a flaw, it was a passivity based on assuming his opponents would be susceptible to reason. But here too – if the urgency with which he is pressing for gun control is any indicator – that lesson has sunk home. And if so, he might deliver a second term that makes history.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager

£25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Don’t pity me for eating alone, just give me a better table

Rosie Millard
Aerial view of planned third runway at Heathrow  

Heathrow expansion: This final 'conclusion' has simply fanned the airport flames

Chris Blackhurst
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map